Monday, January 15, 2007

Flags of our Fathers; Letters from Iwo Jima: a two-part masterpiece from Clint Eastwood


Clint Eastwood has given us two major films in quick succession in lake 2006, about the battle for Iwo Jima. They are Flags of our Fathers, and Letters from Iwo Jima. They are not quite like the usual commercial movie franchise (with a film “2”); rather, they tell the story of the taking of Mount Suribachi from American (leading to the raising of the flag and the famous memorial in Arlington VA, near US 50 and Rosslyn) and Japanese side, a desperate struggle for survival among caves, dwindling into a kind of random despair at the end.

Both were produced by Dreamworks SKG LLC and Amblin and distributed by Warner Brothers (rather than Paramount). Both are in full wide-screen anamorphic format, with razor-detailed photography well suited for Digital DLP theaters and a muted color scheme, where the landscapes (and caves) look almost like black-and-white, giving a moonscape look to the blasted slopes of the mountain, and a curious other-worldly look to the ocean and American fleet. Both movies have flashbacks and subplots, especially the first film. Together, the two films complement each other the way Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony complements Das Lied von der Erde. Clint Eastwood wrote his own original music for the first film, and Kyle (his son?) and Michael Stevens wrote the music for the second film, where the music is more “modern” and complex, somewhat resembling late Mahler at times.

Although requiring full studio resources, the second film is being marketed as an arthouse film, opening in New York and LA right at the end of 2006, and in only one theater in many cities Jan 12, 2007 (in DC, at Landmark’s Bethesda Row, which caters to the art film market). It is, for all effects, like a foreign film, in Japanese with subtitles, delving deep into Japanese culture during this period, and this idea of male honor that requires procreation and then self-sacrifice—for comparison to our own ideas of social morality today.

The films could be compared with Sands of Iwo Jima, 1949, dir. Allan Dwan, from Republic Pictures (DVD from Artisan, now LionsGate). The film, starring John Wayne, seems silly in the beginning but picks up steam as it builds toward the raising of the flag on the mount, with the reading of a letter by the fallen sergeant to his son, whom other men in the unit would be expected to look after. That film is 4:3 and in black and white, and I wonder what the Eastwood films would seem like in pure black and white.

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